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UN study shows environmental consequences from ongoing boom in personal computer sales

Government incentives are quickly needed worldwide to extend the life of personal computers and slow the growth of high-tech trash, according to a new United Nations University (UNU) report into the environmental consequences of the information technology revolution.

The average 24 kg (53 lbs) desktop computer with monitor requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture, much more materials intensive than an automobile or refrigerator, which only require 1-2 times their weight in fossil fuels.

Researchers found that manufacturing one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT monitor uses at least 240 kg (530 lbs) of fossil fuels, 22 kg (50 lbs) of chemicals and 1,500 kg (3,330 lbs) of water a total of 1.8 tonnes (1.9 English tons) of materials -- roughly the weight of a rhinoceros or sports utility vehicle (SUV).

While computers become smaller and more powerful, their environmental impacts are increasing. The materials- and energy-intense production process, greater adoption of PCs worldwide, plus the rapid rate at which they are discarded for newer machines, add up to growing mountains of garbage and increasingly serious contributions to resource depletion, environmental pollution and climate change.

"Today it is hard to imagine life without one of these indispensable 21st century tools," said Eric Williams, the UNU scientist who leads the Information Society and Environment Issues project and Ruediger Kuehr, who co-edited the book . "But it is exactly because they have become so ubiquitous that we must be aware of the negative impacts of the PC boom."

Sales of personal computers have exploded. The 300,000 "desktop" computer sales in the U.S. in 1980 increased 500% the following year and doubled again a year later. Today, despite the high-tech meltdown of the late 1990s, computer sales grow about 10% per year and more than 130 million computers are being sold each year around the world. By the end
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Contact: Terry Collins
collins1@sympatico.ca
416-538-8712
United Nations University
7-Mar-2004


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